By Sana Sarr

Since the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) began its sittings, I have watched many witnesses appear. Various witnesses have left me with a number of different emotions including sadness, anger, amusement and sometimes even reflective. I honestly thought I had seen it all…and then came Lamin Babadinding Jobarteh, on Thursday, February 11, 2021.

Jobarteh is a former National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Operative, former magistrate and former Justice Minister among others. He had been adversely mentioned for overseeing, participating in or turning a blind eye to a number of human rights abuses during the brutal regime of Jammeh. Jobarteh was the Justice Minister when Jammeh murdered 9 prison inmates and Jobarteh stood to justify those illegal acts at the time. Now, I must admit that Jobarteh was not unique. His “performance” has been tried by many before him. In fact, he came across as a poor man’s Modou Hydara, the former NIA Director, who appeared at the TRRC just a few days before Jobarteh. Both men, thinking they’re smart, came with the strategy to act more slick than combative. They’d simply throw Goloh Jammeh, under the bus by gladly assigning all blame to him rather than try to defend or shield like the likes of Lang Tombong Tamba tried. Jobarteh’s strategy included generally accepting collective responsibility, but flatly denying any and all individual responsibility. So, yeah, his actions are not unique, but here’s a Mandingo proverb…

“duwo bay leka buwoo domo, barri mengkaa maa akungna, woleh taa ka foh”.

Translation – All vultures eat sh*t, but the one that rubs it over it’s head is the one talked about”

The reason i’m writing this commentary is because Jobarteh is that vulture that rubbed the sh*t on his head, and I’ll explain.

See, like his fellow brutes who enabled the dictator, Jobarteh proffered the usual lie that he was only following orders to commit the atrocities because he feared that the dictator would harm him if he failed to do so, and continuing on with the deceitful generalization that anyone in his position would do the same. Yes, it’s offensive for him to  think that we all live in the gutter just because he finds comfort in the filth, but we’ve heard the lie before. What set Jobarteh apart was the boldness with which he almost proudly proclaimed, and repeated, that he values his family and will never regard other Gambians as worthy as them. He was unabashed in announcing that he would never defend the truth if it meant he would risk losing his livelihood and ability to care for his family. Babadinding Jobarteh would gladly abuse, torture, violate or murder all of us rather than risk the luxuries his precious family enjoyed. He declared complete indifference to his oath of office, the constitution and the welfare/suffering of those they victimized. Yes, we know this to be true for most of these enablers, but hearing Jobarted proudly repeat it enunciates the roots of our problems as a nation – a twisted barometer by which our society determines good from bad. For many in our society, the good person is the one who goes to the mosque or church, is seen praying, fasting, invoking the name of god, throwing around some Arabic phrases (mashallah, inshallah…) and speaking respectfully to his elders. They show regard to those related or close to them and they throw the occasional crumbs to the beggar on the street. Heck, even Goloh Jammeh once swore to Allah that he would “drink alcohol and eat pork if he failed to carry out his threat of executing people.” This proves that in his mind, and sadly in the minds of many, eating pork and drinking alcohol was the ultimate sign of evil, much worse than the murder he was threatening to commit.

Like Goloh Jammeh, Lamin Babadinding Jobarteh reminded us that even though he swore to execute the duties of his office “without fear or favor, affection or ill-will”, that oath meant nothing to him when it came to “feeding his family”. He reminded us that even though he wears the big haftaan, utters Bilahi, Walahi, Talahi while holding the Quran, that oath is worth less than toilet paper when it comes to feeding his precious family. Jobarteh reminded us that even though his Islamic faith teaches him that Allah is his sustainer and protector, that he truly saw dictator Jammeh as a stronger benefactor who had power over his security and sustenance. Where oh where would poor little Lamin, a trained lawyer, find a job to feed his family if Jammeh was unhappy with him?

I pity Jobarteh, because despite the humiliation he faced at the TRRC after being metaphorically undressed and caught in embarrassing lies time and time again, the man still told the commission that he did not know what he needed to apologize to Gambians for. Jobarteh’s closing remarks were further evidence of how misguided and morally bankrupt he is. He identified the following as the areas where greatest reforms are needed to move the nation forward
– sectoral reforms: Citing people who lack the academic qualifications being appointed to jobs
– Illegal detentions by security officials (same thing he made a living on)
– traffic police giving drivers a hard time
– parents needing to watch their daughters for the way they dress

While i’m sure these are all areas we may want to focus on at some point, it is a comical tragedy that a former Justice Minister, one accused of participation in gross human rights abuses, and a co-pilot on the plane during our nation’s darkest days, has time to even think of them, talk less of calling them the areas requiring “greatest reforms”.

I hope someone from his precious family, perhaps TRRC Chairman Cisse, his fellow Bansang buddy, can bring Mr. Jobarteh back to reality. Tell him that where we need greatest reforms is in our characters. Sectoral reforms are important, but those sectors will need to be overseen by men and women. For them to work, these need to be women and women who understand and value words like integrity, nobility, dignity and service. Our public institutions need to be led by individuals who see  that every family is just as precious as their family, and that their family is not safe or secure unless we strive for the safety and security of every other family. We need reforms to learn that those who only care about their immediate families have no place in public service. I hope our society’s reforms include making sure that Babadinding and his kind are the greatest threat to the peace, stability and progress of the nation.

The writer, Sana Sarr, is based in the United States